Eothen Stearn - The Cockaigne and Lived Democracy - Graduate Project Proposal

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Piet Zwart Institute graduate project proposal of Eothen Stearn, October 2016

The Cockaigne and Lived Democracy

I consider my life practice as an essential source to my art practice. I place a mirror to my own conditioning and use my objects as a reflector to the outside world; in a process of reflection and retraction. I deliberately make multi-faceted chaotic work that embodies what life feels like to me. I approach work in a similar way to that of music via the building up of various layers, collaborations, experimentation and synchronization. I want to make “Socialist artwork” that encourages discussion, exchange and togetherness originating from real life conversations. In my fantasy world I would make something that touches on the omnipresent class, gender/sexual difference, and ethnicity-race and sexuality struggles. I would like to make work which critiques and exposes cultural and social scientific approaches to dealing with such identity politics, albeit influenced and inspired by real life situations.

“Cockaigne” This year I want to make work that is dedicated for everyday sites that I consider have a greater quantity of democracy contained within the infrastructure and air. Examples of such spaces could be a launderette, swimming pool, post office, library, hospital, nightclub or bar. Part of my ambition for the coming year is to link spaces like these, in which I consider we are all body, to my work. I am using the model of “the cockaigne” in order to help draw parallels to a collective artistic practice. “The cockaigne” is a land of plenty and an imagined place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasure are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist. The term is also linked to “utopia”, “arcadia”, “cockneigh”, “Shangri-la” and “paradise” (these are other nodes of subject matter that I might want to traverse). I am interested in this peasant-daydream that became integrated in medieval language. The term pre-dates the ‘welfare state’ that has been eroding for the past forty years. Entering from a perspective to question what we are striving for, and how abstract imaginary spaces are sometimes easier to place ourselves within and seem comprehendible. I find the term of “the cockaigne” interesting in relation to social pyramids that link to artists and friends alike that are accused of being lazy, unmotivated or not contributing to society (whatever this means). And the fact that many of the people in my life (and out) are trapped by systems of oppression. And those who reject the status quo are criticized for their use-value within society by dedicated their lives to non-market driven activity and making. There is something nice about the term “cockaigne” in that it only exists in the imagined, fictional and religious spaces it is a collective hallucination or vision. I am trying to find a way to crystallize feelings and summon sentiments. This is a life long subject that I am not necessarily qualified for but hope to take in contradiction, mess, order, distress, power, limitations and privilege as a starting point. This hypothetical work hopes to explore multiple states of shared emotions and everyday realities. The work will not be utilitarian. It will embody fantasy and dreams. I want to make something that is all at once happy, sad, funny, stupid, serious, punk. Hoping to produce work that can transcend through others via a common ground of emotive states. I want to find out where examples of everyday lived democracy manifest.

How can I achieve this? I have concluded as a starting point of a live switchboard of senses; a live mixing of the senses; a synthetized approach to performance. This is something that I have done unconsciously in the past. Whereby I directed participants in my work to think about an expansive version of what a work could consist of. Getting them to think about its edges that included music, dance, radio, sound, sculpture, text, costume, improvisation, smell, taste and touch. I have an interest in looking into dispossessing the cerebral. My art practice simultaneously mixes people with materials, live relationships or sometimes even fictionalized ones with authors and other artists both dead and alive. Friends, lovers, colleges, housemates and those who inspire me or are in my intellectual neighborhood are mixed in with metal, ceramic, textile, chorography, sound, spoken word and or moving image. My role could be read as that of an animator, interlocker or moderator. A useful metaphor is myself as a conductor of an orchestra to which people enjoy and want to be making with others. I hope to make work that functions as an amplifier or transmitter.

Current work: I have various projects in nucleus. My style of working is always rotational, I like leaving a field fallow. I have a making process of cycles. One project I am growing is a desire to make some work looking into the ‘basic-income’ scheme that will come into play in Utrecht in January 2017. “The Utrecht proposal—called “Weten Wat Werkt,” or “Know What Works”—includes six test groups, the members of which will receive slightly different stipends under slightly different conditions. In addition to the group that will receive €960 per month without any work obligations, there is a group that will be given that, plus an additional €150 at the end of the month if they provide volunteer services, such as doing maintenance work on schoolyards.” I have a curiosity around this proposed welfare system. This comes from my UK experience and the current isolation people feel on a bodily level as a result of neo-liberalism and thinking about alternatives. People are experiencing deep isolation and a constant need to perform ones self, the myth of the individual. This dire climate of repeating systems of on-going privatization of public space and services is breeding toxicity and loneliness. This is some of the roots in my interests around making art that looks to community. My project will come together as a whole through test performances over the year, both at the Piet and publicly. I am performing in a Rotterdam based festival “Ver Uit der Maat” in December where some of this subject matter will be exercised. Practically I intend to travel to Utrecht twice a month thus building up a network and meet those who hopefully can better inform me about the basic income experiment. I intent to keep a diary, continue making objects, music and write site-specific texts. I am also hoping to enroll on additional studies as part of the Gender Studies program in Utrecht University, although this is still in discussion.

Some other projects I am developing….

SOUND In the core of my current art practice mix is making music on synthesizers, at the Klangdan studio inside of worm where I did a residency over the summer. I am composting music using ARP 2600 and EMS VCS3 Putney synthesizers. There I also work as a cook and have done for around 10 months. This engagement with synthesizers operates successfully in many positive varying levels. For me, the act of making music – artwork-- where I also work for money and for my community relationships mirrors my previous practice of choosing to work with my immediate life and its influences. Looking to the personal as political. Some of these questions of the balance of art/life value-systems tie in nicely with Vivian’s seminar throughout the academic year, in which I hope to gain an articulated confidence in. I am interested in using resources that are already in place. In the everyday patterns and social-political relationships that you can pull out from any given reality. I am using the electrical currents within the synthesizers as metaphors for meeting points, narratives and discourse. My interests in synthesizers were initially in relation to my fascination with women and electronic music from a historical perspective. How the women that were working around the birth of these technologies produced such special work but were underrepresented throughout history. Which for me is a micro example for many ways in which women have been unwritten or edited from history. Then consideration needs to be taken into account and multiplied by the lack of history from women of color or from a non-western power perspective. For me, this music speaks about the marginalized taking up space and expanding space, to the utmost point whereby this music defines a compositional genre linked to space and artificial intelligence, which is interesting in relation to imagining unknown territory with social change. (E.g. Sun Ra’s and their relationship to outer space). A performing collective imagined space and comprehendible infinitude that still lives on today. But perhaps a more introverted version of inspiration came from growing up with re-hashed re-repeating music of Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram made at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the 1950s, linked to Doctor Who and with Space Race undertones. I see a direct link between synthesis and synthesizers in that both are able to combine multiple information and auditory outputs. Which summon and encapsulate abstract potentialities.

CASTING I am casting a series of Piet student’s feet. I am hoping to cast sections of the gay bar café Keerweer in Rotterdam around the corner of school. To me this family run gay bar is where pure community exists and is witnessed. I intend to use it as a tool to narrate why there is a growing extinction of lesbian bars in Europe and LGBTQ spaces safe spaces also linked to political climate.

CLAY I have also made more ceramic heads this time with stoneware clay and accompanying iphones as a way of opening up a questing of framing. I am building on my previous head works that strived to make something that is unanimously from the past, present and future, and suggest a museoligical context and further extent the relations between my artworks.

METAL I have also made some hands out of sheet metal; I intend to use them as props. When making them I had the sensation that they were my hands. They represent, perhaps in a crude, direct way a conversation of practically having a hand made art practice that involves craft, and crafts relationship towards collectivity. (This also has a crossover to my previously made quilt)

Please note, I do have my hang-ups about making art that could be perceived as bespoke goods and am constantly re-assessing how to engage with a making practice alongside of an aspirational socially engaged one. I am not a sculptor but feel most like who I want to be when I make things with my hands. However, I always place these objects I make in motion in someway. On a good day making things feels like cultivating, growing, therapy even. These objects can engage in the world in ways that I cannot and sometimes that have the ability to contain a message that my body and voice struggles with.

IMPROVISATION I will also be performing throughout the year with Anni and Angelica as part of our “Dear Fear” improvisational collective that formed over our Priorities Symposium last year. We are performing at a Queer night at worm programmed in November. I can see this collective being incorporated as an important anti installation counterweight towards my graduate show, allowing things to move around some more.

Previously… Overall, I am working to produce a holistic artwork that speaks about collectivity, performativity and ritual. In the past I have built up a varied material practice based on a process that communicates and connects intuitions social experience and form. I have a mishmash approach to making that seeks to blur an experience of how an artwork can be received. Working with others is crucial. It is only through this cross-pollination that the work makes any sense. I began the year with producing a listening device, sculpture and prop, which came from an independent trip to a military museum in Den Haag, Museum Waalsdorp. I went there around a time when the UK was voting on dropping bombs in Syria. I went appalled by this act of violence and the bankruptcy of Nation State systems as a whole. Left to feel disgusted by my own country of birth politics yet again. I went to this museum intending to find out more surrounding historical military listening apparatus. Thinking about how we send out and receive information and the various processes of filtration within this. Moreover, I wanted to expose this clunkiness or inept function of this military listening apparatus from the 1920s and 30s. I was interested in a link between design, functionality and the obsolete combined with brutality that seemed to speak to my own uselessness within structures of power. Through this process I was thinking about a reversal of violence and what it means to bring them to a feminist table and the discourse of deep listening, which originated with Pauline Oliverios. This further develops my previous work surrounding psycho-acoustics, prior to the Piet, coming from a series of “Sound-Bath” works that I made connecting “The Integretron” in the Mojave desert where I lived for 6 months to a displaced audience half way around the world. These “Sound-Bath” performances operated around the principles of overtones, which has a direct link to how we give and receive information (JPEGS and octaves are linked to overtones). I am invested in researching timbre and vibrations and how things come to resonate in and through our bodies. Such methodologies, along with use of props, sound; sculptures and costumes were also present in other works that I developed throughout my first year. I made Being Liberal Is Not Enough and Preciado Picnic which both looked into communal living, belief systems, performative hybridization and identity. These works meditate on how you can feel trapped inside a body or particular aesthetic or symbolism that you are prescribed and also self-prescribe. These artworks looked to how we are conditioned. How we can make up our own families and alternative living systems and structures and what they might visually manifest as. I have an engaged non-institutional art practice aspiring to make work that contains urgent, meaningful and fragile positions at the same time, work with others to flesh out body politics. I make experiments into perception, consciousness and collectivity. I hope to communicate on a holistic register whereby audience members are encouraged to understand the interconnectedness of things and how as a group to deal with this entanglement.


Boyer, A, 2016, Garments Against Women, Mute Publishing, UK Brachts, S, 1986, Queer Theatre, Methuen, London UK Cixous, H, Gruber, M, 1997 Memory and Life Writing, Psychology Press, France Gerds H, 2004, Living Beyond the Gender Trap: Concepts of Gender and Sexual Expression Envisioned Marge Plercy, Cherrie Moraga and Leslie Feinberg. Shaker, Netherlands Grosz, E, 2005 Time Travels, Feminism, Nature, Power. Duke University Press, USA Kahn D. 2013. Earth Sound Earth Signal, Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts, University of California Press, USA Hoberman, J and Leffingwell, H. 2008, Wait for me at the bottom of the pool, The Writings of Jack Smith, High Risk, NYC, USA Lispector, C, (translation by Sousa, R) 1988, The Passion according to G.H University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. USA Lorde, A,1982 Zami, a new spelling of my name. A Biomythography, Crossing Press Berkeley, USA Nelson, M, 2015, The Argonauts, Gray Wolf, Minneapolis USA Rainer, Y. 2006. Feelings are Facts: A Life, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA Rodgers,T 2010, Pink Noise. Women on Electronic Music and Sound. Duke University Press, USA Sonit, R, 2016, Hope in the Dark Untold Histories Wild Possibilities, Haymarket Books Chicago, USA

Online articles Hamilton, T, (21.06.16), ‘The Netherlands Upcoming Money-for-Nothing Experiment.’ The Atlantic Media Company, Washington DC. USA http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/06/netherlands-utrecht-universal-basic-income-experiment/487883/

Documentaries Delia Derbyshire (1968) Pot Au Feu Adam Curtise (2016) Hypernormalisation